Most of us associate “You are a royal priesthood, a holy nation,” with 1 Peter 2:9. It’s the text we commonly turn to in order to establish that under Christ, every Christian is a priest. It’s easy for us to overlook, though, that Christians are not the first group to whom these things were said.
Instead, they appear in Exodus 19:5-6. There, God says to the Israelites, “Now, therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, you shall be My treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”
Perhaps the most important word in the quotation is “if”. If the Israelites were willing to obey God and keep covenant, then they would be God’s treasured possession, royal priesthood, and holy nation. If not, then not. Sadly, the history of the Israelites tended much more toward “if not” than “if”. They saw the splendor of God at the top of Mt. Sinai, but they chose not to honor or obey Him, first in the wilderness and then in the promised land. As a result, the Israelite experiment ended in failure and exile.
Today, we must remember that our priesthood and our holiness are similarly conditional. Christ has already done the hard work. Through the blood that He shed on the cross, we are sealed to God in a new covenant (“Not,” says Jeremiah 31:32, “like the covenant that I made with their fathers. . . , my covenant that they broke.”). In Him, we have redemption, the forgiveness of our sins.
However, no less than the Israelites, we have an obligation to keep covenant, to show our faithfulness to God. Because the One who has called us is holy, we must be holy ourselves. This is not the perfunctory holiness that shows up only on Sunday morning. It’s the holiness that marks all of our behavior. We don’t arrive at this holiness by accident; instead, it results from a daily, dedicated search for God.
Of course, holiness demands self-honesty. All of us are capable of lying about and overlooking our sin all day long, but that will neither help us keep covenant nor make us fit to stand in the presence of God. We have to ask ourselves hard questions and guide our conduct on the answers.
- Am I holy in my rejection of materialism, or do I live like somebody who loves money more than God?
- Am I holy in my attitude toward lust and sexual sin, or do I make provision for the flesh?
- Am I holy in my humility, or do I take pride in my spiritual attainments and rejoice in the comparative failings of others?
- Am I holy in my desire to spend time with God in reading and prayer?
- Am I holy in my love for the assembly and my delight in the company of God’s people?
- Am I holy in my submission to the commandments of the Lord, even the ones that are difficult (like evangelism)?
None of us have seen God on a mountaintop, but we all have been given a priceless opportunity. Our “if” makes the Israelites’ “if” pale by comparison. We can be God’s kingdom of priests, forever. We can be His holy nation, forever. We can be His special treasure, forever—the apple of His eye throughout eternity. It’s still an “if”, though. Let’s devote ourselves to living up to it.